Ham Radio – Installing TYT MD-380 Tools

I had been reading various reports about the TYT MD-380 Tools and was intrigued.  Then, late in the Thursday night PAPA DMR Roundtable discussion, listened as advice was given to a user with a menu problem.  Joined the associated Facebook Group at TYT MD-380 Tools, and my curiosity grew higher.

Finally I found a page listing the Features associated with the Tools and I was hooked – primarily by the ability to display the user database information from DMR-MARC.net when a DMR ID was heard – instead of just getting his/her first name and call sign, you also get their name in full and home QTH data displayed on the same screen.  How cool is that?

In the early days, the tools had to be installed via Linux, today there is a means of installing via Windows, but I chose to go about it using Warren Merkle’s scheme of using a virtual Linux machine under Oracle VM Virtual box.

First of all – let me say this is a great way to brick your radio if you miss a step or screw up typing/etc. The following “worked for me” and a whole bunch of other folks, but your mileage may vary. I just finished reading of a guy who did just that and wanted to blame the author, (Warren Merkle), who simply ignored him in the MD-380 Tools group on Facebook.  Having said that, I was very careful and had a blast.

Before getting started, I would recommend you download and study a copy of MD380tools_VM_installation_3.08.pdf from github.com – I actually studied this document for about an hour all totaled.  Its a fairly large document and only part of it applied to what I wanted to accomplish.

Here is a relatively quick summary, with links, of what I did – all based on poring over that PDF file for about an hour:

1. Downloaded and installed the latest Oracle VM Virtual Box for Windows from:
http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/server-storage/virtualbox/downloads/index.html
(I clicked on “windows installer”)

2. From that same page on oracle.com I scrolled down and downloaded a copy of the Oracle VM VirtualBox Extensions.  Do NOT skip over that – later on you will need the extensions so USB will work right on your machine, along with a few other things.
(I clicked on the “5.1.28 ExtPack” download link)

3. Installed Virtual Box going with all defaults in the config, opened it and installed the extensions.  After the extensions are installed, it is a very good idea to close VirtualBox, then reboot your computer – the next time you open it after the reboot, those extensions should do a fine job of finding your particular USB ports and be ready to use them.  I wouldn’t skip this step either.

4. Downloaded the virtual machine image file (tyt_kd4z_3.0.zip), (called the “VirtualBox Appliance image file” in some of the docs), from this link:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bwoi2MrlPb3vVEt3Ym4tVHF3SDQ/view?usp=sharing
(Save it to a spot on your hard disk you can get at in the next step and extract everything from the zip file – you should wind up with a copy of the appliance image file named “tyt_kd4z_3.0.ova”)

5. After re-opening VirtualBox, click on “File | Import Appliance” and navigate to the file tyt_kd4z_3.0.ova, select it and import it – this will take some time to accomplish. When it is done, you will see a virtual machine named “tyt”, which you can highlight by clicking on it once, then click on the green “Start” arrow to load that virtual machine.

6. I got a warning message and a couple of advisory messages at the top of the tyt vm that I just closed/ignored after reading…

7. You should now have what appears to be a script running from the command line that is pretty self explanatory.  The next step is to type  glv and hit the enter key, (that stands for “Get Latest Version”, (it gets both the experimental firmware *and* the User database),  and this also can take a long time depending on your internet connection speed/etc. – be patient.  When it is finally complete, (seems to make a couple of passes at updates), you should wind up once again at the command line.  (It should looks something like ” tyt@DmR~$ _” when its done updating itself.

8. Now its time to get the radio ready. Plug in the USB cable to the computer and (currently “off”) radio – then open the radio in DFU mode by holding both the PTT switch and the button above it in while turning it on.  Give it a minute here, just in case Windows needs to go out and get the associated DFU driver or verify its got the right one.  Windows 10 will tell you if it is updating, and when it is done. (It may not need to if you have recently updated firmware for something else).  Next you will type flash and hit the enter key.  That script is going to run for what seems like a *very* long time, it will also pause and not appear to be running, don’t be fooled into doing *anything* – let it run until it finally comes back to that command line I previously described.  Once done, I turned the radio off – then back on with it still plugged in, and observed the opening screen for the MD-380 Tools just before the normal welcome screen with my call sign and id number.

9. OK – the following may not be necessary, but I wanted to make certain the UserDB actually got loaded – so I turned the radio “on” again, (just normal rather than DFU), watched it load, then typed flashdb and hit the Enter key.  It was off to the races again – took quite a bit of time, but eventually got back to that same command line.  I turned off the radio – unplugged the USB cable and set it aside for testing.

10. The way I closed the virtual machine was to click on “File | Close” – selected “Send the shutdown signal” and clicked on OK.  Of course, then I shut down VirtualBox itself by simply clicking on the “X” button in the upper right hand corner.

That was it – and it was successful.  Again, the link for what functions the MD-380 Tools Project currently enables is located at:
http://md380.tools/features/

Here is the first thing I set up after completion – it is a post from Warren:

[SETTING TIP]

If your radio doesn’t display the contact information when a station is transmitting, you might need to set the Show Calls menu option to “User Db” This menu item replaced the original menu “UsersCSV”

 

Ham Radio – setting up the TYT MD-380 DMR Radio

One of the things I found most interesting about getting into Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) as a Ham, is that all of digital voice radio seems to have its own language.  There is a lot to learn, things like going to DMR-MARC.net to get a DMR user identity number assigned, codeplugs, zones, contacts, it goes on and on and is rather confusing.  I literally immersed myself in everything DMR to try to learn that “language” as fast as possible.  One item that really helped was a kindle ebook copy of:

DMR For Beginners: Using the Tytera MD-380 Kindle Edition

While I was at it – also picked up an even cheaper ebook named:

The DNA of Digital Mobile Radio Programming: The TYT MD-380 (The DNA of DMR Programming) Kindle Edition

Both are a huge help in simply learning the language of DMR, which is applicable to both the MD-380 and GD-77 radios.

Software and Firmware editor/installers

For this I went to the VA3XPR site and to their download page.

From there, I scrolled down and downloaded/installed “TYT Tytera MD-380 CPS v1.32” which is the current version of the codeplug editor for this radio as of Sep. 22, 2017. Scrolling just a bit farther down, I downloaded/installed “TYT / Tytera MD-380 & 390 Firmware Upgrade Tool” for later use.  With Windows 10 on my notebook computer, I did not need to download the USB driver file also on that page.

I must note here that, everywhere I went, there was a consistent recommendation to get a “codeplug” from someone in our local area to help with the initial programming of the radio.  From here on, I will focus on the TYT MD-380 radio.  Ours is UHF only, (400 MHz to 480 MHz), and has no GPS capability.

Codeplug

The next thing I did was to create a guest account on the local Papa System web site.  Such a “guest” account is good for 90 days, during which time you can decide whether or not to become a member of the Papa System, (there are dues which help maintain the repeaters, etc.).

Having logged into the site I discovered the PAPA System DMR page – and from there a link to codeplugs, and darned if there wasn’t one for the TYT MD-380 which I immediately downloaded and saved to my hard disk.

Spent a couple days editing/hacking/nosing around that codeplug downloaded from papasys.com/dmr/ for the MD-380 until heck wouldn’t have it – decided I was making things more complicated than they needed to be, (a bad life-long habit), so downloaded a fresh copy

About that time, I received the following message via eMail from the folks at PAPA System:

PAPA DMR Roundtable

Mondays starting at 8:00pm PDT, tg 3106 (California)

Join us on the California 3106 Talkgroup:

This time the ONLY editing I did was go to the general settings and insert my call sign, and the id number issued by dmr-mark.net – saved it to a “work” file, then uploaded it to the radio via the provided USB cable. Said it was successful, so turned off the MD-380, unplugged the USB cable, turned it back on and hit “Menu” – then, using the down arrow button, scrolled down to “Zone” and hit the green button again.

In “Zone” scrolled down until I found the “OTAY HOME” selection, (I have a great shot at Otay repeaters from my home QTH), selected that and went back to normal operation. Twisted the knob until I got to Channel 5 on the Otay repeater, which is TG 3106, keyed and waited for the “beepbop” that indicates you made it, then transmitted “W6TUX testing”. Eureka! I could “hear” myself at the above brandmeister link coming out of the computer speaker! YAY!

Thursday evening, had a loud/clear report and nice QSO with Leo NC6B up in Ramona on TG 3106, and later that evening, I was able to check in on the PAPA DMR Roundtable discussion on Talk Group 3106 and found that very gratifying.  A good week of learning and making progress with Digital Mobile Radio!

Update!

Not a week later, I was tickled to hear from another local Ham that he had succeeded in getting his MD-380 going, kind of following along with these same instructions – I gave him a successful radio check on talk group 3106 and immediately afterward he had a nice QSO with a Ham operator up North of Sacramento, CA.  That put a huge grin on my face!

Ham Radio – Exploring the digital voice modes – starting with DMR

DMR = Digital Mobile Radio – this open standard grew out of Europe, (ETSI), and was embraced by Motorola – originally for the commercial radio world.  sometimes you will hear it referred to as MOTOTRBO, but Motorola is just one of many manufacturers of DMR radios. Slowly, but surely it has been embraced and influenced by Amateur Radio.  Such radios vary greatly in price, and I have elected to go with two of the cheaper manufacturers from China to experiment with and start learning about this mode.  BUYER BEWARE – there are such radios out there that “claim” to be fully compatible – however it turns out they are only capable of a single time slot rather than dual time slot and therefore cannot do true Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) operation.  I have received a recommendation from a trusted source for an inexpensive DMR radio that *is* compatible for less than $100 each.  More on that later.

ICOM embraced D-Star, which is the oldest of the three digital voice modes I have considered – ICOM is the leading manufacturer of D-Star radios, however there are other D-Star manufacturers.  D-Star was designed from the ground up FOR Amateur Radio.

Yaesu embraces Fusion, (or “System Fusion”), which is also all for Amateur Radio, however, fusion is a closed standard at this point.

For a far better explanation than I can provide, recommend having a look at this page on “netnutmike’s”, (Mike Myer’s), blog.

The radio I have chosen to look at for personal training aid is the

TYT MD-380 – DMR/Moto TRBO Ham Radio

That embedded link are to current Amazon Prime pricing, however you can find each radio cheaper but probably not with free two day shipping if you happen to be an Amazon Prime member.

We have received both radios – each came with its own programming cable, charger base, cable and plug, plus the spring loaded belt clasp you install yourself.

If you should choose to follow this path, I would recommend getting on YouTube and searching for videos on the one you chose, DMR-380.  There are some excellent ones.  I would also encourage you to consider searching for blogs, etc. – plus recommend you consider joining the associated User Group on FaceBook:

Tytera/TYT MD380/390 Users Group

Why look at everything? Well, to put it simply, Amateur Radio’s digital voice modes are comparatively complicated over SSB and FM analog modes.  Programming and understanding a DMR radio is more difficult than D-Star or Fusion.  I look at that as good news – its a challenge to investigate yet another part of this wonderful hobby called Amateur Radio!

Much more later on…

Ham Radio – Boom Mic on the cheap!

I will flesh this out with pictures/etc. later on.

As part of turning that back bedroom into a quasi-real Ham Shack, I wanted to have a boom Mic with foot switch – but without going totally overboard in terms of expense, (cheap fellow that I am).

We had ordered the “boom” arm several months back on eBay, (uninstalled – put back in box after inspecting), and a cheapo foot switch, known by other Hams to work and be fairly durable.  A guy who has an IC-7300 I’ve been following on Youtube (K0PIR) went this route via eBay late last year instead of tithing up to Heil and saving well over a hundred bucks – that idea appealed to me:

BM800 Condenser Microphone Shock Mount Home Studio Sound Audio Record Mic
http://www.ebay.com/itm/232119812950 <– link will undoubtedly disappear soon but you can search for the device

OK, that takes care of the Mic & mount problem – but what about the adapter – also on the cheap, from a different eBay seller:

8-Pin MIC/Headset Adapter HS-01C for ICOM Transceivers(incl IC-7300) – ELECTRET
http://www.ebay.com/itm/162550543205 <– same, if the link doesn’t work simply search eBay for the device

You plug the Mic cord in one lead and the transmit switch on the other, (they are labeled).  Later on, I will probably install a splitter so I can use either the foot switch or a hand button.

Whoa – last edited this in July, then forgot about it – going to go forward with publishing it before it gets any older.  Bottom line, this cheapo setup works GREAT with the IC-7300 radio!

And just like that – its July?

I remember my own grandparents commenting on how time seems to just fly by as you get older.  Well, guess I’m finally there – loving life, however seemingly fleeting it is.  Had a big spring, with grandchildren’s graduations and birthdays to attend/support and oh so many other events/activities.  There have been a few perturbations along the way as we travel through 2017 – but Heidi and I simply meet them head on if its something we can effect.  If we can’t do anything about it – we simply pay in no attention and focus on what we *can* do.

Life is good!

March, 2017 – ALREADY?

Had to back off the old blog for a bit.  Had cataract surgery and a new lens implant done in the first part of November, then a repeat done on the other eye in the first week of February.  What an incredible difference it has made.  Feel like I have quite a bit of my world back! 😀

Keep telling Heidi “I can see forever again” and she understands.  Have been far-sighted all my life and, with the cataracts, my world was slowly “shrinking”.  Elected to have the surgery when I could no longer drive at night, even to attend a Ham Club meeting 1 mile from our home.

As an added benefit, the new lens implants both have built in blue light and UV filtering.  I am not “light sensitive” in the slightest, which was the biggest complaint from others who had this surgery long ago.

Today, it is an “out-patient” surgery – and the actual time in surgery is only about 15 minutes, with only about half an hour (for me) in their recovery room before being released.  All the rest of the recovery is done at home.  I *did* have to limit my activities, especially over the first two weeks after each eye – so am now focusing on trying to exercise and work off some of the weight gained while just setting around.

Just prior to the 2nd eye surgery, Heidi and I purchased a new ICOM IC-7300 Ham radio.  Will have much, much more to say about it as time goes on, for now I’ll just say IT’S INCREDIBLE! 😉

Life is good!

Ham Radio – Ham Desk Riser Project

This is one we started a few weeks ago. Our “Ham Shack” is in the smallest bedroom of our 4br home, and it is literally in a mess. Last month, I started simply trying to pull everything out that wasn’t part of the hobby, or there for creature comfort. When that was done, decided we either needed a new desk, or at minimum a desk riser to provide a place for power supplies, radios, tuners, etc.

I looked around for a couple weeks and finally decided to simply build our own, (hey, I’m CHEAP), which led me to search the Internet to see what other folks had created.  Finally ran across this one:  Ham Shack Desk Riser  While the design/dimensions were not suited to our needs, it was certainly a source of inspiration.

Time to get busy!  After playing with various designs, I homed in on creating one about 4′ wide, with two “shelves” and a top, each with supports, (risers), to prevent sagging.  That would permit me to use the largest Melamine shelving available from Home Depot, and I could get them to do the required cuts.

Good old Home Depot!

Good old Home Depot!

Heidi and I went to our local Home Depot where I bought three “Melamine White Shelf Board (Common: 3/4 in. x 15-3/4 in. x 8 ft.; Actual: 0.75 in. x 15.75 in. x 97 in.). The young fellow at their saw service then made a total of 17 cuts for me without complaint. One hour after our arrival, I left with what is essentially a “Kit” for nothing more than the cost of the material.

Melamine is durable and not all that expensive, but it is also heavy, relatively hard to work with, (and *very* hard on saw blades).

4" riser glued with Gorilla Glue to the inside of the right side board.

4″ riser glued with Gorilla Glue to the inside of the right side board.

Several hours have passed already, so this will be all for today. You get the idea of the steps followed from this photo.Several hours have passed already, so this will be all for today. You get the idea of the steps followed from the photo above.

I have deliberately “over-designed” this Ham Desk Riser for strength.  Power supplies and HF Radios don’t weigh as much as they once did, but would really like this unit to last.

Setting up to start fitting, drilling, counter-sinking, etc.

Setting up to start fitting, drilling, counter-sinking, etc.

Pre-assembly preparation.

Pre-assembly preparation.

Pre-assembly preparation.

Each joining spot will have 3 screws in it, so pre-drilled holes and all will be counter-sunk, then a little white plastic cap covering the screw. This kind of thing took up most of the afternoon, early evening.

Coming together rapidly but ran out of daylight.

Coming together rapidly but ran out of daylight.

This is where we left off the first night as it was getting dark. The unit is laying on its back, (on the unattached piece that will be the top), as we attached the upper and middle set of risers. Heidi’s help was MUCH appreciated for that part!

Assembly completed with our neighbor's help!

Assembly completed with our neighbor’s help!

Heidi was out and about with her 91 year old Mom, so called our friend and good neighbor, “Rick”, over to help hold stuff square while I drove in the final screws.  He did so as I attached the two 4″ risers under the bottom shelf, then both of us carefully slid the shelf into the appropriate “slot”.  Only 18 more screws while he diligently kept everything lined up and Eureka!

Now all that is left to do before setting it on the Ham Desk is covering all of the exposed screws with little plastic caps. (Piece of cake!)  It is far from perfect, but completely functional and a bit more than “sturdy”.

Ham Radio – Our portable HF Dipole

First and foremost, I absolutely get a kick out of playing with Amateur Radio Antennas of just about any kind, configuration, etc. It is part of the hobby that just appeals to me. Have spent many hours on-line pursuing new thoughts, ideas, etc. Learned early on to avoid paying too much attention to Commercial antenna “claims”, marketeer speak, etc. and started looking at what is working for other HAMs, or has worked for them in the past.

One of the projects that appealed to me was reading of the “BuddiStick” antennas and researching other designs that later grew out of that original project – that is, until the day I got a gander at the rig WA6FFT was using up on Mount Laguna. A very experienced and avid portable operation/CW/QRP enthusiast, Phil was kind enough to lower it for me and go over the few number of components and explain how it was simply “Handy”. I was sold!

Phil's "Buddystick" work-alike horizontal HF dipole.

Phil’s “Buddistick” work-alike horizontal HF dipole.

The photo above was sent by Phil at my request, (I’ve whited out his license plate), inquiring about his description of it on our local 2m repeater.  Later, when I got to “see” it in operation, there was no doubt that would be a very handy rig for Heidi and I to have for portable operation.  Something you could literally run up from just about anywhere, and be “on the air” in just a few minutes.  We have other “wire antennas” we will use, (Shorty 40 Linear Loaded dipole, Sotabeams linked dipole, Sotabeams end-fed vertical), and yes any “loaded” antenna is a compromised antenna, but I could picture us driving through the mountains, spotting a likely turnout, and being on the air right after pulling in.  Cool!  It was time for me to put on my old “thinking cap” and decide how I was going to adapt it to our own particular setup.

Phil uses an old military portable mast he acquired years ago, (and I’m keeping my eyes/ears open for one), but I figured it was probably adaptable to the masts we already had for portable operations, and that turned out to be true – (though not quite as handy as Phil’s rig).  One of the most attractive things to me about this setup over our wire antennas is the lack of “footprint”.  You could use this setup in a crowed parking lot, campsite, or wherever in a relatively unobtrusive fashion for those around you.

The first step involved a run to our local Ham Radio Outlet for the little MFJ-347 mini-dipole antenna mount, however, researching their web site, I found purchasing the MFJ-2240 package would provide both the mount and a set of 7Mhz “Hamtennas” at a reduced price over purchasing the components individually.  Then I could add pairs of Hamtennas for each band as time went on.  (At the time I am typing this, we now have the 20, 40 and 80 meter bands covered, and intend to keep adding the relatively inexpensive pairs for whatever bands we want to work).

Noting the bolts & nuts provided on the antenna mount are metric, it was off to our local Home Depot where, (with help from the manager), I was able to locate a mess of stainless steel wing nuts the right size to replace the nuts, (I bought spares – too many things get “lost” in the field).  That step makes the initial setup and tear down far easier.  While there, I picked up a little “ratchet wrench” the correct size for the bolts, to keep a dedicated tool right with the rest of the components all the time.

MFJ-347 mini-dipole-mount

MFJ-347 mini-dipole mount

Each set of Hamtennas required manual tuning – the stainless steel “whips” that stick out of the loaded section of each antenna are intentionally quite long – and running the extra metal inside the loading coils has a negative impact on their functionality, so you literally have to cut them off – then, when you have the antenna set with little allen screws, not more than an inch or so extends into the loading coils.  This is a time consuming activity, requiring a good antenna tuner, but it should only have to occur once.  Because I am an Amateur Extra, and have privileges extending lower into each band than Heidi’s current General license, each set was tuned for the lowest Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) to be at the low end of the General “voice” frequencies.  With that extra effort, I was able to achieve a setup suitable for both of us.

It really is quite a process – but well worth the effort:

Back-and-forth tuning process 1

 

Back-and-forth tuning process 2

Back-and-forth tuning process 2

 

Back-and-forth tuning process 3

Back-and-forth tuning process 3

 

Back-and-forth tuning process 4

Back-and-forth tuning process 4

Up to this point in the photos, I had been using our modified Harbor Freight push-up flagpole – but also wanted to be able to use our MFJ-1910 “33 Foot Twist Lock Telescoping Fiberglass Pole” with the horizontal dipole setup, however, it being fiberglass, I needed a way to protect it from the “clamp” on the mini-dipole mount.  Finally realized I could simply use PVC pipe, slot it, then let the clamp squeeze it onto the mast.  Worked like a charm:

Slotted PVC sleeves - later I widened the gap on each one to about 1/8th in.

Slotted PVC sleeves – later I widened the gap on each one to about 1/8th in.

Up to this point, I had been attempting to use a “current balun” mounted just below the antenna, without success.  Phil had told me the HAM he originally copied had mentioned the need to use a MFJ-915 “line isolator” in-line with the feedline, up close to the antenna.  Being the honest soul he is, Phil said words to the effect “I don’t really understand why, but I put it on there and darned if it doesn’t seem to work”. 😀

Remembering that conversation, I had to call Phil to remind me of the part number, HRO had them in stock – put it in-line at the antenna end of the feedline and “darned if it didn’t work” for me too! 😀


Being the inquisitive soul that I am, (Virgo ya know), I did some further research.  Turns out the MFJ-915 is really an “Unun” – OK – more research:

BALUN v/s UNUN

A balun matches a balanced load to an unbalanced line, but it can also do other useful things. A current balun can present a high impedance to common-mode signals, which will help reject noise. Common-mode signals are the same on both conductors, so are not “balanced” or differential.

An unun is an impedance transformer, usually 4:1 or 9:1, which matches an unbalanced antenna to a feedline. A 9:1 transformer is often used for an end-fed half wave antenna.

So I guess what I was actually facing was that I had created a compromised “unbalanced antenna” that needed to be matched to my feedline – that’s my cactus and I’m sticking to it! 😉

Reference: (in PDF) A Ham’s Guide to RFI, Ferrites, Baluns, and Audio Interfacing – Revision 5a 5 June 2010 – by Jim Brown K9YC

Cast Iron – Breaking in a new Dutch Oven

Looking at our little “collection” of cast iron ware, the one thing I was missing was one of the Lodge Pre-seasoned 6 Qt. Dutch Ovens. Ordered from Amazon.com at a reasonable price, it arrived yesterday.

Having a bit of a problem with one of my feet, Heidi came out to help me and act as my “runner” in and out of the house, so together we went to work on adding to the seasoning of the new D.O.

2016-09-14-13-32-37

New Lodge 6 Qt Dutch Oven. Cleaned, greased, and baking in on the grill at medium-high temperature

 

When I removed the lid, wiped it down and set it aside to cool, Heidi remarked it looked like a dish antenna of some kind.

When I removed the lid, wiped it down and set it aside to cool, Heidi remarked it looked like a dish antenna of some kind.

 

I was actually using part of our "Campmaid" cooking gear - great way to handle a hot lid.

I was actually using part of our “Campmaid” cooking gear – great way to handle a hot lid.

 

The handle comes off with a button-press for storage inside the D.O.

The handle comes off with a button-press for storage inside the D.O.

 

Same as a new cast iron frying pan, even though it is pre-seasoned, I like to fry up a pound of bacon in it right away. (Of course, we enjoyed BLTs later on as part of the process).

Same as a new cast iron frying pan, even though it is pre-seasoned, I like to fry up a pound of bacon in it right away. (Of course, we enjoyed BLTs later on as part of the process).

I’ve done this with each new piece of pre-seasoned iron ware we have picked up over the years, and always been pleased with the result, (especially the Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato sandwiches). 😀

Planning on giving this new D.O. quite a workout in the coming months, and if I do anything new will put it up on the blog.  Right now am considering trying my hand at a “Tater-tot, Sausage, Egg & Cheese” breakfast casserole I saw on Facebook the other day – of course, I want to try it outdoors!

Ham Radio – Our portable QRP HF setup

QRP can mean a few different things in Amateur Radio – Sent to another party it can mean reduce power or should I reduce power, but QRP operation, or a QRP radio normally means operating or operates at low power. (Usually 5 watts or less).  Many times on the air you will hear someones call sign followed by “/QRP” or simply “QRP”, meaning “I am operating this station at low power”.

Contacting another station at 5 watts or less can be a bit more challenging than operating at higher power, say 100 to 1500 watts of transmitted power, but it can have some very surprising results – and I personally find everything about intentional QRP operation to be a fascinating part of the hobby.

Over this past year, we have slowly set up a portable HF “QRP” capability, and spent no small part of yesterday afternoon/evening testing it here at the old Pondee – I took photos of the setup and will share a few of them.

First a few shots of our QRP backpack designed for the FT-817 radio that I purchased as part of a pre-production sale from China on eBay.  Payed significantly less for the pre-order, but they are currently around $80 from the same seller. Note: comments are underneath each photo:

QRP backpack - rear view

QRP backpack – rear view

QRP backpack - front view

QRP backpack – front view

QRP backpack - layout opened up - note inside compartments left & right of the radio and auto-tuner

QRP backpack – layout opened up – note inside compartments left & right of the radio and auto-tuner

Soft battery pack to protect external 12v battery is place at bottom of pack

Soft battery pack to protect external 12v battery is place at bottom of pack

We are currently using 3 pound 12v SLA batteries, each equipped with a homebrew Anderson Powerpole adapter

We are currently using 3 pound 12v SLA batteries, each equipped with a homebrew Anderson Powerpole adapter

A view of the left internal compartment, currently holding the microphone, rubber ducky antenna for 2m operation, and a "Nifty Guide" for the radio

A view of the left internal compartment, currently holding the microphone, rubber ducky antenna for 2m operation, and a “Nifty Guide” for the radio

Right inside compartment containing small log book, wire radio stand, and miscellaneous adapters/accouterments

Right inside compartment containing small log book, wire radio stand, and miscellaneous adapters/accouterments

Here, I have removed most of the items from the backpack for our test session, out in the field it would remain in the backpack and be opened out on a 1.5 lb folding table not shown

Here, I have removed most of the items from the backpack for our test session, out in the field it would remain in the backpack and be opened out on a 1.5 lb folding table not shown

Fully packed as shown, the entire backpack weighs quite a bit less than 20 lbs.

Not mentioned above, but shown on the card table for our testing, I added another 3 lb battery (spare), and in the top/left a 35ah battery we will keep in our vehicle.  Also in the middle/right, there is a West Mountain “ClrSpkr” which contains some audio frequency digital signal processing that is *very* effective in reducing noise.  It worked so well, I am wondering if I can sneak it into the XYL’s pack without her noticing? 😀

Our testing session went very well indeed, of course I have a bit more trimming/tuning to do on a pair of MFJ 20 meter “Hamtennas” set up as a horizontal dipole. The 40 meter set are good to go, and I look forward to obtaining a 75 meter set soon to add to the kit in our F-250 pickup.

Bottom line, we are having fun with the Amateur Radio hobby, and looking forward to taking this rig up in the mountains when the weather cools down a bit in Southern California.  Life is good!